Around 100 Israelis on Thursday watched President Barack Obama’s speech in
Jerusalem, on a big screen set up in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.
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the throng of hundreds of thousands that organizers had hoped for when they set
up a wishful-thinking Facebook group over a month ago, but the rush-hour crowd
did manage to bring some of the spirit of the speech to the square, long one of
the most famous spots in Israel for rallies and demonstrations.
met with applause when he mentioned the peace process and former prime minister
Yitzhak Rabin, as well as when he spoke against the “occupation.”
was, it should be noted, a hometown crowd for Obama – several youngsters in
Meretz T-shirts, Tel Aviv types with their bikes, a couple with beers and a
hipster mustache or two, as well as a group of Peace Now activists. Most of
those in attendance appeared to be a choir waiting to be preached to, by an
American president they likely have admired for some time.
general secretary Yariv Oppenheimer, whose organization set up the “Obama: Come
to the square” Facebook page in an attempt to convince him to give an address at
Rabin Square, said on Thursday that the US leader gave “a very important speech
with a very clear and important message.”
Oppenheimer, whose group
canceled the event when it learned last week that the speech would be at 5 p.m.
on a Thursday, possibly the worst part of Israel’s rush hour, and then reversed
course, said he feared the speeches wouldn’t result in serious action on the
ground, but that he hoped they result in a new-found push from the Israeli
public in favor of the peace process.
Sitting on an electric bike wiping
tears from his face after the speech, Giora Keren, 62, said he was a bit
overcome with emotion, and that he hoped “the speech would make Israelis come
around to the peace process, and hopefully we’ll see a new protest movement
based on this.”
Keren, a Meretz voter, said he lived nearby and happened
to be riding by when he decided to come watch the speech. He said that he had
feared that there would be opposition to Obama’s visit, something that he hadn’t
seen so far.
When asked what he hoped Obama’s visit will accomplish, he
said, “Maybe it will wake up the Israelis, it’s been too long, we need peace,
Grandfather Israel Shafat, a kippa-wearing Meretz voter, said he
was impressed by the speech, but added, “He’s a great rhetorician, but it’s not
so important what he said but what he’ll do. Hopefully he can push the people
[of Israel] to push the government back on the peace process.”